From Sinai to Mars: Mohammed Sallam

Mohammed Sallam is an ex basketball player for Egypt’s national team and and one of just 100 people from around the world to be shortlisted – from many hundreds of thousands of applications – as a candidate for establishing a colony on Mars. Getting to where he is now is a great achievement and if he’s selected to go to Mars, he’ll go down in history as one of humanity’s greatest and boldest pioneers. Recently, Mohammed came to Sinai with Omar Samra and Wild Guanabana – the award winning adventure tourism company he represents – to walk the mountain section of the Sinai Trail. We caught up with him, to ask a few Qs about Mars and the Sinai Trail. See what he had to say here: 

Mohammed, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Can you tell us a bit about the Mars One project and how you got shortlisted? Right now, you are in a final list of 100 people who might go, which is a great achievement! How will the final group be chosen and when will the decision be made? 

The Mars One project started in 2011; it’s a non-for-profit Dutch organization that aims to establish a sustained colony on the red planet by 2031.202,586 applied by august 2013, we went through a series of filtration for around 2 years and currently 100 left, 50 men and 50 women. Sometime next year we’ll go through some challenges somewhere isolated and they will pick 24 out of the 100 to be trained all the way up to 2031. They will be 12 men and 12 women and they will be split into 6 groups of 4s.

How did you become interested in exploration? And when did you become specifically interested in Mars? 

It started when I was probably 5, I would go to my room window and stare at the sky asking myself what’s there and why is it there in the first place? I’ve always wanted to go there and see with my own eyes, pictures are cool but it’s nothing like the real thing. Absolutely nothing. Mars is a very interesting place, it used to look a lot like earth billions of years ago, maybe it was a blue planet too who knows. But suddenly some drastic events changed everything about this planet and we need to understand if that’s going to happen to our beloved earth as well. So around 2012 when I saw one of NASA’s rovers landing on mars I started paying attention to this place.

What stories of human exploration have inspired you most throughout history? 

Aghhh so many, to name a few; Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, George Mallory, Ernest Shackleton and my favorite Yuri Gagarin. They all had one thing in common, curiosity 

If Mars doesn’t happen – if you’re selected but choose not to go, for example – is there anywhere else you’d like to explore on earth?

Absolutely, I’ve been dying to really visit this place and start solving the endless puzzles around it. Easter Island. I’d like to find the lost city of Atlantis if one day existed. 

Closer to home, you are a sportsman and you represented Egypt at the highest, national level in basketball. When did you try outdoor sports like hiking for the first time and can you remember when you climbed your first mountain? 

Dec 26th 2015, Mount Katherine I will never forget how hard it was for me as my ever first mountain, especially on the way down but after that I decided even though it was hard I still think I enjoyed every rock on it. So I headed to Poon Hill in the Himalayas only three months after, Went back to Nepal the year after to hike the Everest Base Camp and now one of the most beautiful trails ever the Sinai Trail.

What about mountains on Mars, are there any high ranges there? 

Olympus Mons, the largest mountain/volcano in our solar system, it’s almost 3 times as high as Mount Everest. It is also one of the things that prove Mars used to be a warm place at least once.

What did you think of the Sinai Trail? What did you like most about it?

Literally everything, first off some of the areas looks really like a Martian terrain, others look like a western movie from the 60s, the food was magnificent and words won’t do justice to sleeping under the stars, but most probably my favorite part is the stories behind every mountain, every piece of land and the 7 proud tribes of this part of Sinai. I really loved it.

Many people around the world are scared to visit the Sinai and Egypt, hearing only bad news. Would you have any message for them? 

If you love exploration, if curiosity is what drives you every day then you know that seeing is believing, Please hear the words of the people who visited this marvelous place, the people you know the people you’ve met. Sinai is a big playground for you and me, the ancient land welcomes you don’t be late.

If you go to Mars, you’ll go down in history as not just one of Egypt’s – but of humanity’s – great pioneers, going somewhere none of us have gone before. Would you have any advice for young explorers wanting to get out and discover more of Egypt or the world around them? 

Imagine if our ancestors didn’t explore and decided to live on a little piece of land on earth and never went anywhere, what would our world look like today? Until comes someone like you and says let’s cross this ocean because it’s never been done before how about that for a reason? Maybe we’ll learn something tomorrow that we don’t know today, and that is priceless. Go explore and learn.

Stunning images from David Degner

In late 2016 22 hikers from around the world joined the Bedouin of the Sinai on the 1st ever thru hike of the Sinai Trail, walking over 200km from the Gulf of Aqaba to the top of Egypt’s highest peak, Jebel Katherina. Amongst the hikers was the Cairo-based American photographer David Degner, who shot a stunning portfolio of portraits on the hike, from the Bedouin to the hikers themselves. David has a long standing connection with the Sinai, carrying out several photo shoots including on the Sinai is Safe events, which were held on the Sinai Trail. See the full gallery on David’s website.

 

The Sinai Trail: a woman’s story

We’re delighted to see another beautiful short film on the Sinai Trail; made by the up and coming Eygptian filmmaker Nada Ibrahim, it features Nada el Shazly, one of the first Egyptian women to walk the full Sinai Trail uphill – the difficult way! – all the way from the Gulf of Aqaba to the top of Egypt’s highest mountain. Nada was part of the 1st ever group to hike the trail in December 2016; a hike which made a little piece of Egyptian hiking history. Listen to Nada here. 

Leon McCarron: update

We just heard from Leon McCarron, one of the first hikers to ever walk the full Sinai Trail. Leon walked the trail with UK filmmaker Austin Vince and Musallem Abu Faraj of the Tarabin tribe. Leon will be releasing a film about his walk on the Sinai Trail later this year and a book about his adventures – called ‘The Land Beyond’ – will follow, due for release in September with IB Tauris. Nice one Leon! 

1st all international group!

In May, just as the Sinai was starting to really warm up before summer, with hiking getting difficult, the 1st ever all-international group to attempt the trail finished in St Katherine. The group was organised by Helen Cranston of the UK, who volunteers her time as a supervisor of community projects in the Sinai with the Makhad Trust, and included people from the UK, Ireland and other parts of Europe. All but one of the hikers were women and the group included a hiker in their 70s: the oldest person to complete the trail yet! A big congratulations to the whole group from everybody at the Sinai Trail! 

One of the world’s great new trails

Everybody at the Sinai Trail is delighted to hear we were named one of the greatest 6 new hiking trails in the world by Wanderlust Magazine. Especially happy too to see our friends from the Jordan Trail and the Masar Ibrahim al Khalil in Palestine in the list: that means 50% of the best new trails are in the Middle East, which is truly fantastic news. Read the full Wanderlust piece here

1st thru hike 2017

After sitting out the coldest depths of winter, the Sinai Trail got back to action in April 2017 with a group of 10 hikers from Egypt, the USA, India, Holland, China and other countries walking the whole trail from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Roof of Egypt. Things got tough when they entered the highlands of St Katherine, with an epic rainstorm hitting on their first night in the mountains and temperatures going below zero in their camp on the top of Jebel Katherina in the days that followed. Nevertheless, all hikers stuck it out and finished the trail, in a trip to remember a lifetime: we all know here the Sinai Trail isn’t easy, so a big congratulations – alf mabrook! – to all of them! 

Sinai is Safe: The Fab Fourth

Just one week after the 1st ever thru hike of the Sinai Trail, the Bedouin team organised Sinai is Safe – the biggest hiking event of the year in Sinai – on the Sinai Trail. Over 50 hikers from Egypt and around the world joined the Bedouin tribes of the region to walk together over two days in the mountains, sending a clear message out to the world that Sinai is Safe. It was the fourth ever Sinai is Safe event and the first time it had been held in the territory of the Tarabin tribe. The Sinai is Safe campaign started in 2014, with the aim of creating a counter narrative to the ongoing bad news about the Sinai and showing a different, more positive, hopeful side of the peninsula. Here’s a short slideshow by hiker Antony Girgis. 

Sinai Trail: 1st ever thru hike!

In December 2016, after 200km walking, five gruelling mountain peaks, and 12 days in the desert the first ever group to attempt walking the whole Sinai Trail finished in St Katherine. In the group were 22 hikers from all over the world: from the UK to Jordan, the USA to Spain, and Italy to New Zealand and of course, Egypt itself. The group braved everything from blisters to midnight rainstorms and subzero temperatures to etch their names in Egypt’s hiking history and make a group of lifelong friends with the other hikers and the Bedouin guides. Congratulations to all of the hikers and the Bedouin team that helped them along the way!

Sinai Trail: 1st Egyptian and woman

Congratulations to Asmaa Amr Alawii, who recently became the first mainland Egyptian – and the 1st ever woman from anywhere! – to complete the Sinai Trail. She walked the trail downhill, starting in St Katherine and finishing in Ras Shetan, on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba. It was a tough, gruelling hike, over 12 days, but Asmaa finished, and we are sure her example can inspire many other Egyptians and people from all over the world to follow in her footsteps and discover the beauty of the trail. You can read a full interview with Asmaa in the What Women Want Magazine.

Sinai Trail: Guide Training

A few days after winning the prestigious BGTW Tourism Award in London, the Sinai Trail team set to work on a course to train a generation of new guides to work on the trail. Three promising young guides from each of the three Bedouin tribes involved in the Sinai Trail were selected for the new training programme. The classroom for the training was the trail itself, which was done in its full 200km length, with the young guides walking it head to toe, from the town of St Katherine to Ras Shetan, on the Gulf of Aqaba. Along the way the guides received training in first aid and navigation from accredited outdoor professionals from Jordan and Europe, along with training in how to be a Bedouin guide from the head guides of all three tribes, which was the most important thing of all. The aim of this training course is to equip these young guides with the technical skills and knowledge they need to guide hikers in the modern era, but above all, to train them to be Bedouin guides in the rich, proud traditions of their fathers and grandfathers, who have guided people through this ancient land for centuries. The training fostered strong bonds between young guides whatever their tribal affiliation and also between the younger and older guides. The young guides will continue their professional development now working as apprentices on real trips, under head guides. They are the future of the Sinai Trail.  

 

BGTW Tourism Award

In November 2016, in a glittering award ceremony at London’s Savoy Hotel, the British Guild of Travel Writers named the Sinai Trail the best new tourism project in the Wider World. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Rashid of the Jebeleya tribe attended the ceremony on behalf of the Sinai Trail, meeting the Governor of South Sinai, the Egyptian Minister for Tourism, and the Egyptian Ambassador to the UK. This is wonderful news in the Sinai Trail’s opening year and will help bring the kind of attention with which the trail can reach out to wider audiences around the globe. A big thank you to the BGTW for giving the trail such a prestigious prize, especially when tourism is down and most newspapers are too afraid to feature it in their travel sections. And an equally big thank you to the hundreds of people who helped us develop the trail along the way; many small acts of help and kindness together became something much bigger, carrying this project further than it could ever have gone alone. The award belongs to everybody who helped this trail and we want to dedicate it to the most beautiful place in the world: the Sinai and all its wonderful communities. 

Sinai Trail: The Story

Over the last month, the up and coming Cairo-based film maker Ahmed Ezzat came to the Sinai, to walk, talk and and film his favourite places in the world. Over four days, Ahmed walked with Bedouin guides of different tribes, including Musallem Abu Faraj and Nasser Mansour, to capture this stunning video, which tells the story of what the Sinai Trail means to the people who made it. 

1000 miles in the Middle East

The Sinai Trail has finally been hiked the whole way, from start to finish. Northern Irish filmmaker and author Leon McCarrron walked the trail with his friend Austin Vince and Musallem Abu Faraj: one of the Bedouin guides of the Sinai Trail. Leon’s trip on the Sinai Trail was part of a much bigger 1000 mile walk through the Middle East, in which he also walked a new Palestinian hiking trail called Masar Ibrahim el Khalil, plus the Jordan Trail. Mount Sinai marked the official end point of Leon’s 1000 mile walkabout. Over the coming months, he will be writing about his adventures in the Middle East and he will also be releasing a short film on the Sinai Trail, so stay tuned for that. We will be catching up with Leon soon for an excluslive interview, so check back for that soon too. For now, congratulations from all of us in the Sinai to Leon and Austin for their first traverse of the Sinai Trail.

Egyptian hikers tackle the Sinai Trail

Two Egyptian hikers walked the Sinai Trail recently, covering every part of the route except the last stage in the mountains of St Katherine. Marwan Abdellatif from Mansoura and Shady Mokhtar of Alexandria started the trail together, beginning from the more difficult one of the Sinai’s two alternative starting points to tackle the huge El Gardood plateau: a 1000m-high tableland with views to the Hejaz mountains of Saudi Arabia. This is the hardest part of the Sinai Trail for hikers, which makes their achievement all the more impressive, because they were noth novices with no previous hiking experience before this trip. Marwan and Shady plan to return to the Sinai soon to complete the final section of the hike near St Katherine. These two hikers have walked further than any other mainland Egyptians, setting an inspirational example for others to follow, and we send them a big congratulations!

 

1st MTB crossing of the Sinai Trail

This is just a quick bit of news to say the Sinai Trail has – for the vert first time – been ridden all the way top to toe: from the high mountains of St Katherine to the Gulf of Aqaba. A three-strong team including Musallem Abu Faraj of the Tarabin tribe – one of the Sinai Trail Bedouin developers – plus Kevin Davie, a professional rider and author of the book Freedom Rider, along with a Ukrainian riding partner made the trip successfully. They were supported by a Bedouin team making drops of food, water and sleeping gear at rendezvous points along the way. The team gave us some useful feedback, telling us that 80% of the trail could be ridden. The other 20% had to be walked and there were some tough porterages over high passes. Over the coming year the Sinai Trail team will be exploring the possibility of making the trail 100% rideable by developing alternative trail segments specifically for bike crossings where these would be difficult on the main hiking route. Keep checking back here for all the news. Congratulations to all the guys who just finished the trail from everybody at the Sinai Trail team!